Congress Passes Bill Mandating Online Safety Education
Education technology organizations are hailing the passage of legislation in the House and Senate addressing online safety education in schools. The legislation will require schools receiving federal Internet subsidies to educate their students about appropriate online behavior and cyberbullying.
The legislation is part of a much larger bill known as the Broadband Data Improvement Act, which mostly focuses on the FCC redefining and identifying tiers of high-speed Internet services, as well as the provision of grants for broadband initiatives at the state level. Deep inside the bill, however, is a section dedicated to amending the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Introduced by Sen. John McCain in 1999 and passed by Congress in December 2000, CIPA was created over concerns that students would use Internet access in schools and libraries to access inappropriate materials. The law, which applies only to institutions that receive federal E-Rate subsidies for offsetting the cost of Internet access, requires that they certify they have policies and technology in place to promote Internet safety, such as an acceptable use policy and filtering software.
The CIPA amendment included in the broadband legislation adds further detail to the types of online safety policies required of schools, stating “part of its Internet safety policy is educating minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms and cyberbullying awareness and response.”
Meanwhile, the bill mandates that the Federal Trade Commission carry out a nationwide program “to increase public awareness and provide education regarding strategies to promote the safe use of the Internet by children.” The program is required to include the promotion of online safety best practices, by means of a national outreach campaign targeting the general public, schools, local government, nonprofit organizations and local law enforcement. To assist in these activities, the bill also tasks the U.S. Department of Commerce to establish an online safety working group. This group, to be made up of representatives from the public and private sectors, would review and evaluate online safety tools and outreach efforts. They will also be expected to report back to Congress within one year regarding the success of these efforts.
Two leading education technology associations, ISTE and CoSN, came out with a joint statement praising the move. “ISTE and CoSN have advocated for this approach for many years and we are pleased that Congress has now ratified our position. Education, not mandatory blocking and filtering, is the best way to protect and prepare America’s students.”
Both CoSN and ISTE believe that the Internet contains valuable content, collaboration and communication opportunities that can and do materially contribute to a student’s academic growth and preparation for the workforce. However, we recognize that students need to learn how to avoid inappropriate content and unwanted contacts from strangers while online. In our view, educating students on how to keep themselves safe while online is the best line of defense because no technological silver bullet has yet been devised that will guarantee that students are effectively protected. Therefore, we embrace wholeheartedly the thoughtful approach that S. 1492 takes, particularly the flexibility that it affords districts on determining how best to educate students about staying safe online.
Congress’ passage of S. 1492 represents real progress in the area of Internet safety and we urge President Bush to sign it into law.
Of course, we’ll have to wait and see what happens, assuming the bill does indeed become law. “educating minors about appropriate online behavior” can be interpreted by school districts in a variety of ways, from the most cursory of overviews to in-depth curricula that forces students to think critically about their online activities.
The ball will soon be in your court. So how would you implement the policy in your school district? -andy